There are cultures that value prose, argument, dialectics and rhetoric in the search for clear truths. Others prefer hymns, psalms, symbols, enigma, and seek first of all to praise and honor mystery.
Some peoples have pushed reason, wisdom and philosophy as far as possible – as maieutic powers.
Other peoples have preferred revelation, prophecy and mystery, subordinating the work of the spirit to transcendence, to its criticism and interpretation.
The paths of truth are multiple.
Perhaps one day one will describe how favorable climates, comfortable summers, open landscapes may help change worldviews. Scattered archipelagos, alluvial plains, secret deserts, wide and ample valleys, have respective affinities for different ways of thinking. Do the plains of the Indus have the same light than the islands of Greece? Does the Nile valley compare with the Jordan valley?
The tribes of Noah, Shem, Cham or Japhet each had their own way of seeing the sea and the stars, the sun, the mountains, the cow, the lamb and the night, fire, milk and sacrifice. These are only facts and images for some, but metaphors, intuitions, for others. The arid desert fits in with a mineral religion. The linear, naked horizon leads geometrically to monotheism. The smiling myriads of sea waves and the profusion of scattered islands probably may evoke more easily polytheistic thoughts – the solar unit diffracts into billions of labile splinters, and the earth crumbles into the sea.
The idea of a single God does not belong to the mind alone; the climate also exudes it, the landscape shapes it, and a suitable language is needed to exalt it.
The Semitic religions did not recognize the divine essence of variety; they did not admire the plurality of the divine within them. The names El, Eloh, YHVH, Adonai, Baal, Elion, El Shaddai, or Allah concentrate all the intuition, all the meaning, in the One.
But the multiple names of the One proclaim it, they repeat it in all tones: their number bears witness to this: – all these names of the One are not themselves one.
All these names of the One are as many multiple veils.
The Elohim, a plural noun of the One – proclaimed this in the language itself.
Of pure and clear monotheism, one can undoubtedly say that it requires, to put it bluntly, intransigence. One, only one, not two, three, twelve, a thousand or billions. How could one be the two? Or the three? Or infinity?
But is God only One? Isn’t He also Infinite? If He is One and Infinite, then He is also Two, at least conceptually-wise. And One, and Two and Infinite make Three. Etc.
The world is wider than flat deserts, deeper than open seas. Over there, towards the Indus, or near the banks of the Oxus, people have for millennia seen the divine wherever they looked, wherever the spirit set its wing.
The complexity of grammar, the richness of words, the spirit of research, the freedom of thought, the critical capacity, were not an obstacle, but other wings still, making the divine glimmer through many other prisms.
Finesse is not useless in these matters. The mind must become tolerant when one becomes aware of human destiny, of its variegated unity.
Only the north makes the south possible. East and west stand together at both ends of the day. The one and the multiple find their complement, their inner duality in each other.
The infinity of possibilities is said to be found in the unity of being.
If God is really One, why is humanity not yet One? For what reason? For what purpose?
Renan said in his provoking style: “Who will dare to say that by revealing the divine unity and definitively suppressing local religions, the Semitic race has not laid the fundamental stone for the unity and progress of humanity?”i
In the Semitic system, God, in essence, is far from mankind, immensely far. But God chose a Nabi, a prophet, an anointed one, and revealed Himself to him, and through the Nabi to mankind. The Semites see in the world, always, everywhere, only the fulfillment of this unique revelation, the revealed will of a unique Being infinitely transcendent to those multiple beings to whom the revelation of unity is made.
The One revealed the “Oneness”.
And yet, by essence, the multiple, the diverse, the far, the near, are not « one ». They are here and now, or there and far. And the here and there are essentially multiple. Only the One is not “multiple”.
Fundamental contrast. One must then recognize a double state of being, the multiple here or there, and the One elsewhere.
Mankind in the future will no doubt try again to « unify » by some transcendental intuition, this double state of being, the One and the Multiple, the far and the near, transcendence and immanence.
The earth and the stars, the desert and the seas, the mountain and the plain – are all multiple metaphors of this unique intuition, – the universe is also a multi-verse, i.e. it hides its essence.
By analogy, we may infer that a unique and diverse humanity is bound to be, in essence, trans-human.
iErnest Renan. Histoire générale et système comparé des langues sémitiques. (1863)